PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 21: Jose Veras #43 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Cincinnati Reds during the game on August 21, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
This article on MLB Trade Rumors isn't new, but I just saw it. The noteworthy part, for our purposes, is Tim Dierkes' estimations of what each arbitration-eligible player will cost.
Garrett Jones, RF: $2.4MM
Charlie Morton, SP: $2.1MM
Chris Resop, RP: $1.1MM
Evan Meek, RP: $900K
Brandon Wood, UT IF: $700K (non-tender candidate)
Steve Pearce, UT IF/OF: $600K (non-tender candidate)
Joel Hanrahan, RP: $4MM
Jeff Karstens, SP: $2.8MM
Ross Ohlendorf, SP: $2.1MM (non-tender candidate)
Jose Veras, RP: $1.5MM
Jason Grilli, RP: $800K
Of these, the controversial ones appear to be Jones, Resop, Veras and Grilli. I don't think many people are opposed to offering arbitration to Morton, Meek, Hanrahan or Karstens, and I don't think anyone's actually all that concerned about the three "non-tender candidates" - Wood, Pearce and Ohlendorf.
Not that any of this is new information, really, but the quartet of controversial players will cost practically nothing - about $7 million or less in total. I've never been a huge Jones fan, and I think that, in an ideal world, he'd be a 300-plate appearance bench player, but as a legitimate big-league bat and an insurance policy in case things go wrong at first or in the outfield, he's worth the $2.4 million. (If you'd told me three years ago that I would one day describe Garrett Jones as "a legitimate big-league bat," I would have been very, very surprised.)
Veras was only a half a win better than replacement last year, and he'll probably never have the sort of control necessary to really get beyond that. But he's not a bad pitcher now, and if he ever does figure things out and cut his walks - and that's not totally out of the realm of possibility, given his stuff and the fact that relievers often follow weird career paths - he'll be a monster. For $1.5 million, I would take that chance.
With Resop, it's a similar story. He was frustrating last year, but he struck out 10.21 batters per nine innings and probably gave up more home runs than he really should have, based on the number of fly balls he allowed. He's already a decent reliever who has a chance to be better than that.
Personally, I'm not going to worry too much if the Pirates don't tender Grilli, but again, the strikeout rate is excellent, and the cost is very low.
These are decent players. Frustrating ones, maybe, but they're competent. The key reason why the Pirates' wouldn't take these relievers to arbitration is because they believe they can find good relievers even more cheaply.
Well, sometimes they can, and sometimes they can't. Their 2009 bullpen was among the worst in baseball. Their 2008 'pen was even worse. (Hey, remember Tyler Yates?) Neal Huntington has done a decent job building reasonable, cheap bullpens the past two years, but he doesn't have a magical ability to pull good relievers out of thin air.
And even when it seems like he does, the players he picks aren't much cheaper than the ones he'd be getting in arbitration this year. In 2010, Octavio Dotel cost $3.25 million (or would have if he'd stayed with the team the whole year), D.J. Carrasco cost about $1 million, and Javier Lopez cost $775,000. Brendan Donnelly would have cost $1.35 million for the whole year, and Jack Taschner $835,000. (Thanks to Cot's Contracts.) The numbers the Pirates would have to pay Veras, Resop and Grilli are similar.
True, the Pirates didn't end up having to pay all that money, since none of those players lasted the whole season. But it's worth pointing out that arbitration salaries aren't guaranteed either, or at least they don't become guaranteed until a certain point in March (if memory serves - I can't find documentation to back this up, so please correct me if I'm wrong). So the Pirates could cut someone like Grilli in Spring Training and only pay a small portion of his arbitration salary. Therefore, there's no reason why Huntington can't tender these guys and do his usual dumpster-diving thing, then let everyone battle it out in camp.
Tendering Veras and Resop therefore seems like a pretty easy call to me. I could go either way on Grilli, but ultimately I'd probably tender him too. I think Jones seems like an easy choice as well, given how ghastly first base or right field would suddenly start to look if someone flamed out or got hurt, or if the Pirates couldn't attract a better first-base option to begin with.